A Bully By Any Other Name

From the New York Times:

“Shopping online in late July, Clarabelle Rodriguez typed the name of her favorite eyeglass brand into Google’s search bar.

In moments, she found the perfect frames — made by a French company called Lafont — on a Web site that looked snazzy and stood at the top of the search results. Not the tippy-top, where the paid ads are found, but under those, on Google’s version of the gold-medal podium, where the most relevant and popular site is displayed.

Ms. Rodriguez placed an order for both the Lafonts and a set of doctor-prescribed Ciba Vision contact lenses on that site, DecorMyEyes.com. The total cost was $361.97.

It was the start of what Ms. Rodriguez would later describe as one of the most maddening and miserable experiences of her life…” [continue reading]

For those without the patience to read the seven page article, the owner of DecorMyEyes.com, Vitaly Borker, deliberately mischarged his clients, and then bullied any who complained. Constantly dishing out vulgar threats, Borker committed wire-fraud, impersonation, and stalking as part of his business strategy.

Of course, every angry customer went directly to online web forums and business review companies to complain. Unbeknownst to them, this was Borker’s hope. Every review posted about DecorMyEyes.com, no matter how negative, was another backlink to boost the site’s page rank. After enough negative press, sunglasses product pages from DecorMyEyes.com soon showed up even higher on search results than the websites of their designers!

Shortly after the New York Times’s article stirred up a serious conversation about DecorMyEyes’s business practice, the police struck up an investigation, and Borker was promptly arrested.

The Honest Algorithm

This story illustrates a compelling point. Once Google released the information behind their ranking algorithm (of course, it happened before Google was even a company), people could take advantage of it! A staggeringly large number of services exist to boost your page rank (129 million results on Google search). And so the intended way to get a high page rank (others like your content and link to it) is superseded by some method of manufacturing backlinks.

Unfortunately for the rest of us, PageRank seems to be an honest algorithm. It only judges pages appropriately when the pages aren’t competing to be judged. Once Google became a popular option for search, rankings could make or break a start-up tech company. It was only the natural response to exploit PageRank and boost business, but of course this undermines the assumptions of the algorithm.

It is certainly obvious at this point that while PageRank may be a critical component to Google’s overall ranking algorithm, it is certainly not the only factor Google considers. Its plausible that Google has very many alternative ranking criteria which trump PageRank. Undoubtedly, Google was forced to come up with these criteria specifically to combat sites like DecorMyEyes.com, and identify manufactured links.

And so this opens the floor for discussion: what alternative ranking systems would you consider? Can you think of easy ways to identify these maliciously manufactured links? This seems in general to be a hard problem, unless the pages providing the additional links are blatantly obvious.

Other than a potential discussion in the comments, that wraps up the series on PageRank. We hope the readers have enjoyed it!

Page Rank Series An Introduction A First Attempt The Final Product Why It Doesn’t Work Anymore